NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. — A former U.S. Marine and convicted murderer released from prison in 2019 was shot dead Thursday by a Pennsylvania police officer who found him beating a transgender woman to death, authorities said.
Juan Carter Hernandez, 33, of Campbell, Ohio, died at the scene in New Wilmington, according to Pennsylvania State Police.
His victim, Chynaa Carrillo, 24, of Springdale, Arkansas, was taken to St. Elizabeth Hospital in Youngstown, Ohio, where she died of her injuries.
Troopers were called shortly after 11 a.m. Thursday to a home at 524 South New Castle St. in New Wilmington to assist with an officer-involved shooting, according to a news release. A New Wilmington officer had gone to the address that morning following a 911 call regarding a man assaulting a woman with a blunt instrument behind the house.
“The male suspect was observed to be assaulting the victim with the blunt instrument and was given commands to stop by the officer,” troopers said in the release. “The male suspect continued to assault the victim, at which time the New Wilmington police officer discharged his service weapon, striking the suspect.”
The blunt object was not identified last week by troopers. Hernandez’s motive for the killing was also unknown, though the case remains under investigation.
The New Castle News reported that the officer who shot Hernandez was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the probe.
‘My beautiful, magical mermaid’
Family and friends described Carrillo, a certified nursing assistant, as loving, confident and outspoken. On her Facebook page, Carrillo described herself as a “proud pre-op transLatina” who was an “outspoken, unapologetic, vulgar, filthy soul” with a “lethal” mind and “killer looks.”
“She never hid who she was, even though she knew it could bring up issues. She wasn’t scared,” Patrick Irish, a former co-worker, told WKBN in Youngstown. “That’s why I clicked with her so quickly, because she was so unapologetic about who she was and how she lived her life, and the consequences that unfortunately brought.”
The New Castle News reported that Carrillo had recently moved from Ohio to Pennsylvania to work at The Grove at New Wilmington, a nursing home hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The house where she lived — and behind which she was slain — belongs to the nursing home, which is located next door.
Carrillo’s aunt, Mayra Carrillo, told WKBN that her niece had been happy about dating someone new before last week’s fatal attack. It was unclear if Hernandez was that person.
“She was my beautiful, magical mermaid, and I always called her that,” Mayra Carrillo said. “She’s my mermaid, and we miss her. We miss her terribly.
“We missed her before because we didn’t have her close to us, but knowing that she’s not going to come back is really hard.”
The Human Rights Campaign reports that Chynaa Carrillo is at least the seventh transgender person killed in the U.S. thus far in 2021. At least 44 transgender and gender-nonconforming people were slain in 2020 — the most of any year since the HRC began tracking the data in 2013.
“The rate of violence against the transgender community so far this year is devastating,” Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the HRC’s Transgender Justice Initiative, said in a statement. Chynaa was very young and did not deserve to have her life cut short.”
Cooper said that if the killings continue at the current “alarming” rate, 2021 would be deadlier than 2020 was.
“We must speak up and speak out,” Cooper said. “Everyone must take action to end the violence against our community, and we must do so together as one LGBTQ community.”
Like the majority of transgender people slain in the U.S., Carrillo was a woman of color. SisTers PGH, a Black and transgender-led program that helps transgender and nonbinary people in southwestern Pennsylvania find housing, mourned her death.
“Chynaa Carrillo’s death on Feb. 18 after being beaten in broad daylight in New Wilmington has shocked many in our community,” Ciora Thomas, the founder and director of the nonprofit, said in a statement. “We at SisTers PGH are grief-stricken by this loss, one that comes on the heels of a devastating 2020 that claimed the lives of 44 beautiful trans siblings in America.
“Chynaa’s life was stolen just outside the nursing home she dedicated herself to, having moved from Arkansas during the pandemic to help some of our most vulnerable residents. She deserves the same love and respect as the seniors she served with all her heart.”
A socially-distanced candlelight vigil was held Sunday outside The Grove at New Wilmington in Carrillo’s honor.
“Let us honor Chynaa by uplifting others in their time of need, just as she always did, and by recommitting to the urgent fight for true equity and dignity for Black and trans people all across the globe,” Thomas said.
‘This should not have happened’
Tammy Larew is one of many people who, since Thursday, has expressed her condolences to the Carrillo family.
Larew knows exactly what the slain woman’s family is going through. Nearly a decade ago, she also lost her daughter at the hands of Juan Hernandez.
Kandace Rose Hernandez, 20, was the former Marine’s wife.
Juan Hernandez, who was stationed at Camp Lejeune, shot and killed Kandace Hernandez at their Richlands, North Carolina, home on July 20, 2011. At the time, Juan Hernandez was listed as a deserter from the military.
Hernandez, then 24, was wanted on a federal warrant at the time of the murder.
According to a story published in the Jacksonville Daily News following Juan Hernandez’s 2013 indictment, detectives alleged that the couple had gotten into an argument over rent money and a small amount of marijuana.
Onslow County sheriff’s deputies who responded to the shooting found Kandace Hernandez lying dead on the kitchen floor. She had been shot in the back.
Two other men faced charges following the shooting. Zachary James Stewart, then 23, was charged with being an accessory after the fact for removing Kandace Hernandez’s wallet and cellphone from the scene.
Juan Hernandez’s brother, Jamie Carter Hernandez, was arrested on drug charges after cocaine and paraphernalia were found in his bedroom during the investigation, the Daily News reported.
Juan Hernandez, who initially claimed he’d shot his wife in self-defense, pleaded guilty in May 2014 to second-degree murder.
“I would like to give my sincerest apologies to Kandace’s family,” Hernandez said in court, according to News Channel 12 in New Bern. “I’m very sorry about the whole situation. I am here to accept responsibility for my actions.”
Juan Hernandez was sentenced to serve between eight years and 10 years, four months in prison. It was a sentence with which Kandace Hernandez’s family was far from satisfied.
“(Nothing) short of life in prison or the death penalty would’ve sufficed,” Kandace’s stepfather, Corey Larew, told the news station in 2014. “Our daughter was worth more than eight years.”
Just over five years later, in July 2019, Juan Hernandez was freed on parole. His parole was terminated in April 2020, according to North Carolina Department of Corrections records.
Following Carrillo’s killing, Tammy Larew shared on Facebook her belief that the young woman paid with her life for her former son-in-law’s light prison sentence.
“I am so sorry for your loss. This is hitting me hard,” Larew wrote. “If there was justice for my daughter, his wife, nine-and-a-half years ago, this wouldn’t have had to happen to this beautiful girl.”
In an interview with WKBN, the Youngstown resident described how her daughter, who began dating Juan Hernandez while still living in Ohio, moved with him due to his military service. They were married in 2008.
The relationship was troubled, however, and police officers were called to the couple’s home multiple times due to domestic disputes. On the day she died, Kandace Hernandez had reached her limit.
“Kandace was on the phone with my husband six minutes before she was killed, wanting a bus ticket home,” Larew told the news station.
Watch Tammy Larew speak to WKBN below.
Larew said she and her family wanted Juan Hernandez to face trial on his initial charge of first-degree murder. She said prosecutors told the family they believed there was not enough evidence to sustain that charge, so he was offered a plea deal.
The still-grieving mother said her biggest fear following Juan Hernandez’s sentencing was that he would eventually hurt another woman after his release. With Carrillo’s death, that fear was realized.
“I just screamed,” Larew told the news station. “This should not have happened.”
A longer sentence for Hernandez would have protected Carrillo, she said.
“A few people ask me, ‘Do you feel that you got justice now because he’s gone?’” Larew said. “No. I mean, he’s gone, but he still did what he did to my daughter, and to Chynaa.”